After months of town hall meetings and online surveys, organizers of Blueprint Downtown took their mission to the streets of Juneau on Saturday.
Blueprint Downtown, a long-term planning effort from the City and Borough of Juneau for downtown, kicked off this past August. The CBJ Community Development Department is facilitating it and the city has contracted MRV Architects to work on a long-term plan for the area of town from Norway Point to the Rock Dump.
Saturday marked the first of three walking tours for the project. Zane Jones, a project architect for MRV Architects, led the tour. Saturday’s event focused on downtown business, housing and public safety. A few dozen people, including recently elected House District 33 Rep. Sara Hannan, CBJ Assembly members, downtown business owners and downtown residents, bundled up and strolled up and down Franklin Street.
Jones said he thought the conversations were good, as people could actually point out buildings and spaces as they made their suggestions.
“We’re actually out here walking around, pointing at spaces and I think the conversations change a little bit when you’re actually there and looking and you put on another set of eyes when you’re actually looking at it rather than talking about it in the abstract or on paper,” Jones said. “It’s a good experience for people I think.”
The attendees split into smaller groups for conversations at different points around downtown. Attendees shared ideas about how to make the South Franklin area more of a year-round destination, such as putting a restaurant or coffee shop there or offering some kind of incentive to owners of the properties to open them up for housing in the offseason. People debated the feasibility of various ideas while Jones and members of the Blueprint Downtown Steering Committee listened and took notes.
The group made a couple stops along the way. The attendees filled the lobby of the Senate Mall and listened to Patrick Minick, a board member at the Glory Hall homeless shelter. Minick gave updates about the shelter and the Housing First facility, and answered the inevitable questions about the possibility of the shelter moving out of downtown.
Minick said the Glory Hall (which was then known as the Glory Hole) applied last year to take over a city-owned facility in the Mendenhall Valley. That didn’t pan out, but Minick said he and the rest of the board members continue to evaluate the possibility of moving away.
Moving the Glory Hall won’t solve Juneau’s homeless problem downtown, Minick said. Anecdotally, he said, it seems that the situation downtown is worse in the past five years or so in terms of disruptive behavior from those on the streets, and the Glory Hall’s location isn’t the only factor.
“Well, we’ve been doing the same thing with the same mission in the same spot for 30 years and our policies haven’t changed that much,” Minick said. “Something else has. That something else that’s changed is the opioid epidemic and there’s definitely a different crowd of people downtown.”
That point resonated with many people on the tour. Both Jones and Caitlin Woolsey — an architectural assistant with MRV who helped led the tour — said Minick’s point was one of the most intriguing aspects of the tour.
The group also stopped at Amalga Distillery, where co-owner Brandon Howard spoke to the group about the distillery’s goal of getting involved in the community year-round and how he’s drawn inspiration from other small businesses downtown.
Laurie Clark, a downtown resident who attended, said she particularly enjoyed listening to Howard’s talk. She said she’d like to see that feeling of community spread farther down Franklin Street.
Clark, who said she’s lived in Juneau for about three and a half years, said her main concerns were development on South Franklin and parking. She said she thought the tour was extremely informative.
“It was wonderful,” Clark said. “I know this is the first one and I plan to attend all of them, no matter how cold it is.”
The next two walks take place the next two Saturdays, Jan. 12 and Jan. 19. The Jan. 12 tour will focus on vehicles, parking and pedestrians, and will meet at 1 p.m. at the Heritage Coffee location on Front Street. The Jan. 19 tour will focus on cultural identity, sustainability and the environment and will meet at 1 p.m. at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. All of the tours are expected to last an hour and a half. People can learn more and sign up for the tours at https://blueprintdowntown.org/walking-tours/.
Know & Go
Second Blueprint Downtown walking tour
The focus: Vehicles, parking and pedestrians
When: 1-2:30 p.m. Jan. 12
Where to meet: Heritage Coffee, corner of Front and Seward
Third Blueprint Downtown walking tour
The focus: Cultural identity, sustainability and the environment
When: 1-2:30 p.m. Jan. 19
Where to meet: Juneau Arts & Culture Center
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.